God cares about the poor…

Bible

or at least, these people seem to think so.

Old Testament

Moses taught that the needs of the poor should be met among the people of God, whatever those needs may be: “If among you, one of your brothers should become poor, in any of your towns within your land that the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart or shut your hand against your poor brother, but you shall open your hand to him and lend him sufficient for his need, whatever it may be.”[1]

Asaph, a leading musician for King David, calls Israel to “defend the cause of the poor and the fatherless! Vindicate the oppressed and suffering!”[2]

Solomon declares that the good king should “defend the cause of the poor of the people, give deliverance to the children of the needy.”[3]

Isaiah declares “Learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause.”[4]

Ezekiel defines a righteous man as necessarily including generosity with material goods, as he says the man who “gives his bread to the hungry and covers the naked with the garment…he is righteous.”[5]

Amos teaches “For three transgressions of Israel, and for four, I will not revoke the punishment…those who trample the head of the poor into the dust of the earth and turn aside the way of the afflicted.”[6]

Zechariah summarizes the message of the former prophets as follows: “Render true judgments, show kindness and mercy to one another, do not oppress the widow, the fatherless, the sojourner, or the poor, and let none of you devise evil against another in your heart.”[7]

The period between the Old and New Testaments.

Tobit 12:8 reads “Prayer is good when accompanied by fasting almsgiving and righteousness. A little with righteousness is better than much with wrongdoing. It is better to give alms than to treasure up gold.”[8]

Enoch writes, “Woe to you who devour the finest of the wheat, and drink wine in large bowls, and tread under the foot of the lowly with your might.”[9]

The Damascus Document, which was part of the Essene tradition: “And this is the rule of the Many, to provide for all their needs: the salary of two days each month at least. They shall place it in the hand of the Inspector and of the judges. From it they shall give to the orphans and with it they shall strengthen the hand of the needy and the poor, and to the elder who [is dy]ing, and to the vagabond, and to the prisoner of a foreign people, and to the girl who has no protector and to the unma[rried woman] who has no suitor; and for all the works of the company.”[10]

The New Testament

Jesus commands His disciples to “Sell your possessions, and give to the needy.”[11] He warns against all kinds of covetousness—even desiring something that should be rightfully yours.[12] He says that if you are devoted to and love possessions, it is impossible to love God.[13] And finally, he proclaims that some do not respond to His message with a good and honest heart because they are deceived by riches and too concerned with the desires of this world.[14]

Paul met with Peter, James, and John in Jerusalem, and the only thing they asked of him was to remember the poor—and this was the very thing Paul was eager to do himself.[15]

Paul’s letters give a description of what it means to live in the Spirit according to the love of God and to live contrary to that according to a sinful nature, and he consistently encourages giving[16] and condemns the greedy as those who do not belong to the Kingdom of God.[17]

John uses giving to the poor as the tangible example by which someone’s love can be tested, and James does the same for faith.[18]

Luke records in Acts that the practice of the early church was for the congregation to sell their possessions and distribute to the poor until there was no one needy among them.[19]

Early Church Fathers

The Didache, which many scholars think was written in the first century and some of the earliest church fathers even regarded as Scripture, states “Thou shalt not hesitate to give, neither shalt thou murmur when giving; for thou shalt know who is the good paymaster of thy reward. Thou shalt not turn away from him that is in want, but shalt make thy brother partaker in all things, and shalt not say that anything is thine own. For if ye are fellow-partakers in that which is imperishable, how much rather in the things which are perishable?”[20] It also lists “covetousness”, “not pitying the poor man”, “not toiling for him that is oppressed”, and “turning away from him that is in want” as characteristics of the “way of death”.[21]

Ignatius was a prominent leader within the early church who wrote “But consider those who are of a different opinion with respect to the grace of Christ which has come unto us, how opposed they are to the will of God. They have no regard for love; no care for the widow, or the orphan, or the oppressed; of the bond, or of the free; of the hungry, or of the thirsty.”[22]

150-500 AD

Irenaus, a bishop of Lyons who has been called “the first great Catholic theologian.”[23] , explains Christ’s commands as necessitating giving all of our possessions to the poor.[24]

Tertullian[25] describes the practice of the early church as sharing goods with one another without hesitation and as collecting money weekly to distribute to the needy in the community.[26]

Basil[27] says that those who have the means to help the poor but refuse to do so are thieves and murderers.[28]

It is said of Chrysostom that one can hardly find a sermon which he preached that did not have some appeal to help the poor,[29] and he recommended giving all away except that which was needed to live a healthy life.[30]

Augustine, one of the most influential theologians of all time, said “The superfluous goods of the rich are necessary to the poor, and when you possess the superfluous you possess what is not yours.”[31]

Today

Pope Francis has championed the cause of the poor, writing in The Joy of the Gospel, “We have to state, without mincing words, that there is an inseparable bond between our faith and the poor. May we never abandon them.”

Mother Teresa wrote “Our poor people are great people, a very lovable people. They don’t need our pity and sympathy. They need our understanding love and they need our respect. We need to tell the poor that they are somebody to us, that they, too, have been created, by the same loving hand of God, to love and be loved.”[32]

David Platt draws attention to the church’s responsibility to help the extreme poor when he preaches, “The cost will be great for those 26,000 kids who die every day of starvation and preventable disease, the cost will be great for them if we continue to spend our resources on ourselves.”[33]

Francis Chan writes in his NYT Bestseller Crazy Love, “If one person invests her or his resources in the poor—which, according to Matthew 25, is giving to Jesus Himself—and the other extravagantly remodels a temporary dwelling that will not last beyond his few years on this earth, who is the crazy one?”

 —

Notes

[1] Deuteronomy 15:7-8; this is actually God talking, but again, I am working under the assumption that Moses, who heard these laws from God, also actively taught them to the people.

[2] Psalm 82:3 (NET Bible Translation)

[3] Psalm 72:4; for more from Solomon, see Proverbs 29:7;

[4] Isaiah 1:17

[5] Ezekiel 18:7, 9—The passage also lists several other characteristics of the righteous.

[6] Amos 2:6-7

[7] Zechariah 7:9-10

[8] Tobit 12:8; Tobit 4:8 is also worth mentioning, which says, “If you have many possessions, make your gift from them in proportion; if few, do not be afraid to give according to the little you have.”

[9] Reference?

[10] Blomberg, C. L. (1999). Neither Poverty nor Riches: A Biblical Theology of Material Possessions. (D. A. Carson, Ed.) (Vol. 7, p. 98). Downers Grove, IL; Leicester, England: InterVarsity Press; Apollos.

[11] Luke 12:33; it should be noted that this is spoken to all of His disciples in this context, not just the rich young ruler.

[12] Luke 12:15

[13] Matthew 6:24

[14] Mark 4:19; Luke 8:14-15

[15] Galatians 2:10

[16] For some examples, see Romans 12:13; 1 Corinthians 16:1-2; 2 Corinthians 9:6-14; 1 Timothy 6:17-19.

[17] Paul explicitly says that the greedy/covetous person will not inherit the Kingdom of God/salvation in the following passages: 1 Corinthians 6:9-10; Ephesians 5:3-5; Colossians 3:5. He warns against desiring to be rich in 1 Timothy 6:9-10 because it has led some away from the faith.

[18] 1 John 3:16-18; James 2:14-17

[19] Acts 2:44-45; 4:34-37

[20] Didache 4:7-8; Lightfoot, J. B., & Harmer, J. R. (1891). The Apostolic Fathers (p. 231). London: Macmillan and Co.

[21] Didache 5; Lightfoot, J. B., & Harmer, J. R. (1891). The Apostolic Fathers (p. 231).

[22] Ignatius of Antioch. (1885). The Epistle of Ignatius to the Smyrnæans. In A. Roberts, J. Donaldson, & A. C. Coxe (Eds.), The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus (Vol. 1, p. 89). Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company.

[23] Irenaus was a bishop of Lyons and has been called “the first great Catholic theologian.” Cross, F. L., & Livingstone, E. A. (Eds.). (2005). In The Oxford dictionary of the Christian Church (3rd ed. rev., p. 852). Oxford;  New York: Oxford University Press.

[24] “[He told us] to share all our possessions with the poor.” Irenaeus of Lyons. (1885). Irenæus against Heresies. In A. Roberts, J. Donaldson, & A. C. Coxe (Eds.), The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus (Vol. 1, p. 477). Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company.

[25] Tertullian, though controversial, was an important Latin theologian, sometimes called the “Father of Latin theology.” Cross, F. L., & Livingstone, E. A. (Eds.). (2005). In The Oxford dictionary of the Christian Church (3rd ed. rev., p. 1603). Oxford;  New York: Oxford University Press.

[26] Tertullian. (1885). The Apology. In A. Roberts, J. Donaldson, & A. C. Coxe (Eds.), S. Thelwall (Trans.), Latin Christianity: Its Founder, Tertullian (Vol. 3, p. 46). Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company.

[27] Basil was Bishop of Caesarea after Eusebius and was a major theological figure in the fourth century. He is highly regarded by both the Eastern and Western Churches. Cross, F. L., & Livingstone, E. A. (Eds.). (2005). In The Oxford dictionary of the Christian Church (3rd ed. rev., p. 167). Oxford;  New York: Oxford University Press.

[28] Hom. in illud Luc.: “Destruam…” for thieves; Hom. in temp. famis 7 for murderers

[29] Chrysostom was one of the most famous preachers in his day, even his name being derived from the Greek words meaning “golden mouth.” Faith and Wealth, 200;

[30] See the following sermon. John Chrysostom. (1889). Homilies of St. John Chrysostom, Archbishop of Constantinople, on the Second Epistle of St. Paul the Apostle to the Corinthians. In P. Schaff (Ed.), J. Ashworth & T. B. Chambers (Trans.), Saint Chrysostom: Homilies on the Epistles of Paul to the Corinthians (Vol. 12, p. 367). New York: Christian Literature Company.

[31] Faith and Wealth 222, note 16; In Psalm 147.12,. cf. Ser. 107.4

[32] Mother Teresa, Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light: The Private Writings of the Saint of Calcutta, ed. Brian Kolodiejchuk, 53265th edition (New York: Image, 2009), (p. 296).

[33] http://www.radical.net/resources/sermons/empower-the-poor

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